Many Filipinas who move abroad are fluent in English and so if you come from an English speaking country, or you are otherwise fluent in English, learning Tagalog is probably not that necessary to have quality communication with your Filipina.
I am not a native English speaker but, although my Filipino wife speaks Italian really well, I prefer to use the English language to communicate with her because she speaks English definitely better than she speaks Italian.
I can speak Tagalog but I find that the English language has a much wider vocabulary than Pilipino so it gives you more options to engage in meaningful communication with your Filipino spouse. Tagalog is a rather incomplete language and does not always give you the chance to express nuanced concepts and ideas and you need to use English to bridge the language gaps.
For example, if my wife hurts me, I can use words and expressions that convey the idea of a major hurt or a minor one if I speak in English. I could say something intense like “you stabbed me in the back” or something milder like “you peeved me”. In Tagalog I know of no other expression than “sinaktan mo ako” to express both more intense and milder hurt. The word tapat is used to express both the ideas of faithful and loyal (which are not quite the same thing) and these are just few examples.
So, if you come from an English-speaking country or you are otherwise fluent in English, learning Tagalog is probably not critical to the survival of your marriage and to the quality of your communication as a couple.
So why should you learn Tagalog?
- One reason is that, when you marry a Filipina you marry (almost literally), the entire kin-group so you are going to have regular interactions with them and it is also likely that your Filipina might want her parents, or even her brothers or sisters, to live with you and all the more so if you move to the Philippines for good, chances are that you will live in the same compound where the entire extended family lives.
Even if your Filipina’s extended family members are fluent in English (like in my case) your effort to learn Tagalog will most certainly be viewed as an effort on your part to go the extra mile.
- Another reason why you should learn Tagalog is because you are going to have 90% of your social intercourses with Filipinos only, especially if you live in a big Western city like Rome where there is a huge population of Pinoy immigrants. Filipinos hardly widen out and have social interactions with local people (at least here in Rome).
- Another reason why you should learn Tagalog is this: I have noticed that, unlike Italians, who only like to gossip about other people when those people are not around, Filipinos like to whisper even in the presence of the person they are tsismising about, so if you can’t understand what they say you might find yourself in the awkward situation where you are not sure if they are talking about you or about somebody else.
- You can startle Filipinos who live in your country by talking to them in Tagalog.
- Being able to speak Tagalog will stand you in good stead even if you only visit the Philippines as a tourist.
I remember carrying way to much hand luggage when checking in at the Manila International Airport known as NAIA and I got away with it because I talked to the officer in Tagalog and he just smiled and let me go.
A friend of mine who spent several years in the Philippines once told me about one of his fellow countrymen who was held up by a band of robbers: he started talking to them in Tagalog kind of pretending that he was being given by the Holy Spirit the gift of “speaking in tongues” and that he was some kind of “pastor” at which the thieves dropped their weapons, apologized and run away saying “sori po pastor”. Well, I am not sure whether this is a true story or an exaggeration but I have a strong feeling that it is very likely true.
Because I speak Tagalog I was able to walk the streets of my wife’s village alone and even take buses alone to go to other towns pretending that I was a mestizo (a Filipino who has Western origins) so that nobody would rob me or hold me up.
Filipinos are by and large easygoing and I’ve noticed that if you are fluent in Tagalog they become even more relaxed so if you can learn Tagalog your trip to the Philippines can be much more interesting.